How To Read 40 Books Per Year

reading more books

…without even trying.

I was a voracious reader as a kid. I read everything I could get my hands on, from encyclopedias to Aesop’s Fables, to books on learning Greek.

Yup, I tried to teach myself Greek when I was 10.

My reading habit slowed and died off in my 20s, but I went through another renaissance of reading when I hit my early 30’s.

Truth be told I actually spent three whole years of my life reading, training in martial arts, and partying – in that order. I had passive income from the Internet. They rank as the best years of my life so far – I truly enjoyed just being instead of constantly doing.

But then somewhere along the line I lost my reading habit again.

I struggled to complete even a handful of books per year, even though I genuinely still loved reading.

And then about 18 months ago I figured out what was wrong.

You’re going to kick yourself when you realize how simple reading dozens of books per year actually is.

The Change

I made one single decision that resulted in me reading 40 books last year.

And even 40 books is a fairly conservative goal to set for yourself.

50+ books per year is entirely possible – my target for this year is at least 50 books.

So anyways, what’s my secret?

Did I discover some speed reading secret that allows me to absorb books by touching them?

Or maybe I hacked my lifestyle or created some creative reading habit?

Or did I just cheat my arse off and read short books?

The answer is “None of the above”.

Here’s what I did.

Drum roll!

I removed all social media apps and games from my smartphone.

Then I replaced them with the Amazon Kindle and Audible apps instead.

So now instead of wasting my time idly scrolling through Facebook, I read a few pages of a book.

And when I go grocery shopping, or walking my dog, I get in at least one chapter of an audiobook.

No, I don’t listen at double speed.

I just stick on my Bluetooth headphones and pick up from where I left off the previous day.

Note: Currently listening to “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins – wholeheartedly recommend it!

But I also read a few pages of a book each night before I go to sleep.

The only real rule I have is that I try to avoid reading non-fiction before bed – my wind isn’t wired for remembering real-world data from books the following day i.e. I forget most of what I read.

And that’s it – that’s the whole secret reading system.

Repurposing Your Time

I didn’t need to put aside “reading time” or create some fixed reading schedule.

I just repurposed my time away from social media nonsense and used that same time to educate myself, or catch up on entertaining books I’ve always wanted to read.

Because, let’s face facts, social media adds nothing of value to your life.

Zero.

It’s an unhealthy addiction that never ends.

A complete time suck that benefits you in no way at all.

I love memes and inspirational animal rescue stories as much as the next guy. I get all choked up reading some of them.

But all that stuff does is appeal to my emotions to keep me scrolling and tapping like an idiot.

I should know because I was one of those idiots who’d spend his evenings arguing with people on social media. Then I’d wake up, play a mobile game for 15 – 20 minutes, and start arguing all over again.

Then I’d follow that with an unknown amount of time on Facebook during the day, including while I was at work. You’ve probably developed a similar pattern – most people have.

But those days are far behind me, and I’ll never go back.

People bitch and moan about their not being enough hours in the day to get everything done. But they’ll happily spend hours each day on social media.

Yet they “…just can’t find the time” to read or listen to a book.

Well, I call bullshit on that because that’s the excuse I used too.

But…but social media..

Does that mean I quit social media completely?

No, but I only use it while on a desktop computer, and once I log off for the evening, I mentally and physically walk away.

Now instead of people getting a reply from me minutes after posting something, it’s at least 12 hours before I’ll even look at my Facebook account.

Sometimes 14 hours.

You know what 14 hours without Facebook feels like?

Absolutely amazing.

I’d recommend that you try it for a week or two and see how you feel.

But apart from that, remove all the social media apps from your phone, install the Kindle apps and consider getting an Audible account.

You can thank me at the end of this year when you’ve read 40 books without even trying.

Dealing With Isolation and Loneliness When Working From Home

A few years in a large corporate environment is enough to convince most people they’d rather spend their time pretty much anywhere else.

And it won’t matter if you work in a cubicle farm or some open-plan hipster paradise – these places all eventually start to wear a bit thin, especially if there’s a lot of internal politics going on.

Which is pretty much always.

Anyways, people in that position usually find another job, leave to start their own business or ask to work from home a few days per week.

This blog post is for anyone who’s thinking about working from home, either for themselves or as an at-home employee.

It’s a bit of a cautionary tale, so hopefully, it will stop you making some of the mistakes I did.

The “Work From Home” Dream vs. Reality

When people think about working from home they picture no more commuting, not having to cram down their breakfast before rushing out the door, and generally just enjoying a better quality of life.

The above are all realities of working from home – they’re the better aspects of it.

But nobody warns you about the isolation that comes along for the ride.

To be fair, most HR departments in bigger companies do warn new at-home workers to spend time outside their home immediately before and after work each day.

The problem is that most people ignore that advice.

So what invariably happens to remote workers/entrepreneurs is you “accidentally” isolate yourself.

You know you should go for a walk/jog/run before work but never do that.

You have your groceries delivered, and order takeaway instead of going out to eat with friends.

Several weeks later you wake up feeling like crap, but you’re not sure why.

That’s when you realize that you haven’t been outside your home in days or maybe weeks.

A lack of human contact can have the worst kind of impact on your overall health.

Humans are designed to live in tribes, and not in isolation.

That’s why people who get washed up on a desert island eventually go nuts.

It’s why isolation is used as a form of torture.

The Psychological Fallout of Isolation

For me, I ended up with a nice big dose of depression.

I knew I was tired and angry all the time but had no idea why.

Nobody told me that being this pissed off the whole time wasn’t about anger – it was a sign I was more depressed than I cared to admit.

That’s probably because I didn’t really believe in depression up to a few years ago.

Yup, that’s a weird thing to admit, but I thought people were simple being far too sensitive.

Then in 2011 my entire life fell apart in the space of six weeks, but I didn’t have time to sit around feeling “bad” – I had shit to take care of, so I got busy with that.

For several years.

Until my life came to a screeching halt in 2016.

All of that was brought on because I isolated myself in my home thinking I was “living my best life” because I was busy all the time.

I wasn’t living anything like a good life.

And I had to find a way to deal with it because I genuinely felt like I was losing my mind.

In the end, I was prescribed with antidepressants along with multiple visits to a counselor (therapist).

Over the space of eight weeks my life started to return to normal.

The first thing I noticed was that I was able to sleep for more than 3 hours, and I also stopped grinding my teeth in my sleep.

So the first thing to accept is that you’re not alone – lots of other remote workers and entrepreneurial types are dealing with the exact same shit you’re dealing with right now.

In fact, something like 30% (and I think that’s pretty conservative) of people who work from home wind up dealing with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

The irony is that if you ask most of them they won’t be able to identify when the problem started – it just slowly became *normal* to not leave the house or talk to people for days at a time.

That feeling of isolation and loneliness lingering in your gut is usually more than just a feeling – it’s a sign there’s a deeper issue you need to deal with.

But, like I said, you’re not alone – there’s lots of ways of dealing with both the isolation that caused your depression and the depression itself.

Let’s take a look at what you can do.

Ask For Help

I know some people prefer to cure themselves naturally, but when it comes to mental health issues the first place I’d recommend going is to an actual doctor.

You can go to an acupuncturist or homeopath afterwards but get a professional medical opinion first.

As I mentioned earlier, what worked for me was a course of antidepressants and a few weeks of talking with a therapist.

I went from feeling like there was no point in getting  (and I mean absolutely no point) to being able to cope with life again.

The constant tiredness was gone, and the unpredictable outbursts of anger (absolute rage, if I’m being honest) went away too.

I still have good days and bad days, but it’s like 90% good and 10% bad, and not the other way around, thankfully.

So how do you avoid isolating yourself when working from home?

Develop Better Habits

Isolating yourself to the point of having actual mental health problems is something that takes time to “master”.

It starts with small changes in behaviour, that then become “daily habits”, and before you know it you’ve somehow managed to normalize not leaving your home.

At first you might not leave your house for an entire day.

Then that grows to a week.

And then two weeks.

You’re suddenly on the slippery slope to becoming socially awkward.

Oddly enough, you have to invest time and effort in becoming isolated i.e. you choose not to meet a friend for coffee.

So the best way to combat this is to develop good habits.

And that doesn’t mean getting up at 6am to run 3 miles, and then drink a macrobiotic kale shake before you sit at your desk.

That’s horseshit – nobody does that.

Well, nobody normal.

Start with something so small it’s almost impossible not to achieve it.

Promise yourself that you’ll walk to the local coffee shop once this week, taking the time to say hello and goodbye to whoever serves you.

That’s it – nothing more than that.

After a few weeks of creating that “habit” your next step is to commit to getting to the same coffee shop 30 minutes earlier.

This is so you have time to read a few chapters of a favorite book, or whatever newspaper is lying around.

Then at some stage in the month ahead you can invite a friend to meet you for coffee there.

Just take baby steps because doing that puts less social pressure on you.

Cut Down On Social Media And Streaming

But…but…social media helps me feel less lonely and isolated!

No it doesn’t – that’s just a marketing tactic.

You’re probably addicted to social media but you haven’t figured it out yet.

We are a society connected to the most incredible information resource in the history of our species – the Internet.

But we’re connected to it at all times, even when we don’t need to be.

It didn’t start out that way, but app developers are now doing everything in their power to make sure you stay online.

They’re paid huge sums of money to ensure you remain addicted, exploiting your vulnerabilities every chance they get.

Remote workers and entrepreneurs can end up living their life vicariously through the Internet.

You don’t have time to meet friends for a coffee, but you have at least 2 hours per day to stalk your ex on social media, look at pictures of cats, and bitch about people behind their backs in private messages.

You have hours per week to dedicate to Netflix binges, but you can’t spare 2 hours to go to the cinema with friends.

Stop lying to yourself – get out and meet your friends.

Social media is toxic at the best of times, but it is absolute cancer when you’re already feeling depressed or isolated.

Join A Gym

Yeah, I know that sounds like the most clichéd advice ever given but it’s still valid.

A gym is a great idea because it forces you to leave the house – to leave work behind for a while.

The world won’t stop turning because you went to the gym for 30 minutes, but you need to actually do this to prove that to yourself.

Not a gym head?

No problem – take yoga classes, or sign up for those jiu-jitsu classes you’ve been threatening to for years now.

Go cycling in a local park.

Go jogging on the beach.

Hell, even just walk to a coffee shop that’s 15 minutes away, grab a coffee and walk back.

The point is that physical activity is a “cure” for not only depression and anxiety but also for loneliness – you’re surrounding yourself with people, even if you don’t know them.

Who knows you might even strike up a friendship or two.

Physical activity is good for your mood, for your mental health and just good for you, full stop.

Use A Co-working Space

These are a perfect, if somewhat expensive, solution for entrepreneurs or remote workers who feel isolated working from home.

In fact, that’s exactly why co-working spaces are so popular – they’re meeting a growing demand.

You probably can’t afford to use a co-working space every day of the week, but even if you use one for a few days per month you’ll notice that being around people actually lifts your mood.

But you’ll also notice that the other people in the co-working space don’t want to sit around all day gossiping – they have to work to do too.

So you get the best of both worlds – an office environment with people to talk to, but nobody is there to waste their time because they’re paying for their desk or office.

Day rates for co-working spaces usually start at around $20 for very basic facilities, all the way up to $50 for bigger operations.

Watch Out For Parkinson’s Law

This piece of advice is really important for entrepreneurs – you need to limit how many hours per day you actually work.

Parkinson’s Law basically says the amount of work you have to do will fill up whatever available time you have.

This simply means that if you decide to work 12 hours per day, you’ll find a way for 8 hours of actual work to instead take up 12 hours.

In fact, it’s more like 4 hours of actual work  taking 12 hours to complete.

So, as much as you’d love to get out and socialize you’re, “…just too busy working. It never ends. I don’t have enough hours in the day.”

The truth is you do have more than enough hours in the day.

But you invest that time in scrolling through social media feeds, staring out the window, and generally just wasting your time.

‘You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire’
– Seneca

There’s a number of ways to stop being distracted, and the first of those is to eliminate access to social media sites (and ideally your smartphone) while you’re working.

If you can’t do that for the entire day then start off by using an app like Freedom for 15-minute sessions, and then expand those to an hour at a time.

Something I find very useful is to put an A4 pad on my desk and note what I did for the last 30 minutes.

You have to be brutally honest for this to be effective, but once you notice how often “social media” or “not sure” is written down you’ll get a wake-up call.

Parkinson’s Law is something I still struggle with at times, but that’s human nature.

Is Working From Home A Terrible Idea?

I’m going to sound like a hypocrite now when I say I love working from home.

I can walk my dog whenever I feel like doing that, or stroll to the shop, or take a coffee break…or read a book for 30 minutes.

Or take one of my famous (if you live here) afternoon naps.

Plus the harsh reality is that it’s either do this or go back to an environment where office politics, nepotism and arse-kissing are the order of the day.

Sure, working from home is not without its challenges, and isolation is one of the biggest things of those.

But once you know that isolation can become an issue then you can head it off at the pass.

That way it never needs to become an issue for you.